Guest Post: If You Value Your Sanity, Never Photograph Kids or Pets

Hi again! I hope you’ve been enjoying the guest blog posts I’ve been writing for Canadian Family. I’ve truly had a fun time writing them! So far in this series, we’ve talked about light, about composition, and about a few technical elements that will enhance your photography. Today we’ll talk about how to wrangle the talent: getting your kids be extra adorable and extra in-focus when you pull out the camera.

And about the title for today’s post? I’m only kidding. Sort of. You can successfully photograph both kids AND pets, but it helps if you approach it with an open mind and a sense of humour.

Formals versus Candids

I’m not a fan of posed portraits. In fact, I forget to take them. I love candid shots because I think that’s where you see a person’s true personality. Well, that’s not quite true. In fact, you can see a little *too* much of my boys’ personality in this attempt at a more formal posed shot, taken last summer at Niagara Falls.

And this is the best of more than 50 I took that day, trying to make a posed shot work. With the sun behind me, they’re all squinting and the boys are simply not cooperating, and I was on the verge of losing my temper over it. Definitely not one of my finer photographic moments.

On the other hand, this next one is one of my favourite pictures ever of my boys. The little one already has his hat half off, and the oldest one’s eyes are closed, and the whole thing is a microsecond away from chaos, but I went with the flow and caught the moment, and got a picture that’s a keeper.

So, my advice is this:  skip the formal portraits and just bring your camera with you everywhere. The best photos are the ones that capture the moments you want to remember, not the moments a microsecond after you hissed, “If you don’t get your finger out of your sister’s ear and smile nicely for the camera you’re grounded until you graduate.”

Oh, and while we’re talking about portraits versus candids, don’t think that your kids have to be smiling in every picture. Catching those moments of deep thought, of frustration, and even of tears, are an authentic record of what life is really like.

(That’s my niece with the big blue eyes. I love love love the “who, me?” look as her cousin glares at her. Perfectly captures their relationship this year!)

Bring out the props

If you want to keep your kids engaged while you’re busy snapping pictures and you want a great way to capture their personality, give them some props. This works really well with babies—give them a bag or box with a favourite toy, and capture the expression of delight when they discover an old friend inside. Be sure to capture older kids practicing piano lessons, or passing a soccer ball, or whatever it is they love to do. Once they’re engaged with something, they’ll forget you’re sticking a lens into their personal space again!

I have dozens, maybe hundreds, of shots of my boys drawing and painting, because a couple of pieces of paper and a box of crayons will keep the lot of them engaged for hours!

And speaking of artists—running out of space for the endless stream of crafts that come home each week? Take a picture of a few each week and then toss them into the recycle box guilt-free. They’re a lot easier to store on your hard drive than they are in the drawer, and they’ll keep better that way, too.

Fingers and toes and parts, oh my

I don’t really have a theme to my body of work as a photographer, but one thing I consistently love to capture are wee fingers and toes at work. (I suppose that ties in with my obsessive photographing of my kids while they’re drawing, now that I think of it.)

Don’t think you always have to get the whole kid in each picture. Zoom waaaaaay in and get just those toes, or a beautiful blue eye with long eyelashes, or (I covet) a blond ringlet in the sun. Sometimes, just a piece of something can be evocative of the whole. This works particularly well when the face is scowling at you – ears and elbows don’t scowl!

Look into my camera

So you have three dozen shots of the back of their heads as they run down the path in front of you, and two dozen shots of them on the swing set, and a dozen more of them whizzing by on their bikes, but you really, really just want one of them smiling for the camera?

Here’s a few ideas. My two-year-old is now so used to me pointing the camera in his face that he’s oblivious to it. I have a hard time capturing him actually looking at me. One trick I’ve used is asking him to look into the camera lens to see if he can see mommy’s eyeball. Doesn’t work every time, but it’s done the trick more than once!

If you’re taking a picture of a big gaggle of kids (maybe a birthday party, or a family gathering) try asking them to all close their eyes and keep them closed until you say “Go!” At least you won’t end up with half the group blinking at the wrong time. Or for a really fun shot, ask them all to jump on the count of three. Even if you don’t get a good shot of them all jumping, chances are they’ll be laughing and smiling in the minute or so after they all jump.

This is my no-fail trick for getting a natural smile out of my boys. (Your mileage may vary, and I found it works less well with girls, but I’m sure you can come up with an equivalent.) When I’m just about to press the shutter and they’re making that godawful grimace that they think passes for a smile, I tell the boys “No matter what you do, don’t think about… boogers!” They burst out laughing, I snap the shutter, and viola: perfect capture. I’ve swapped out “boogers” for “purple ant-eaters” and “giant ice-cream-eating elephants” and yes, I am not ashamed to admit it, “stinky farts.” If you want the genuine smile, sometimes ya gotta go with what works.

Don’t forget, I’ve still got a few Canadian Family magazine subscriptions to give away on my blog, so drop by before the end of the week if you’d like to enter the giveaway.

I’ve got one post left in my guest blogging sojourn here at Canadian Family. Any thoughts on what you’d like me to talk about?

—Dani Girl, Postcards from the Mothership

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